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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Not Bad for a Human - review

I've been in anticipatory mode lately.  I've been away from home for a good while, away from my books, videos, my cats, etc., the comforts of home. The books are significant because I've know for a few weeks that my copy of Not Bad For a Human, Lance Henriksen's autobiography co-authored by Joe Maddrey was waiting for me. I'd already read many excellent reviews by other fans and reviewers, and as I'm a hopeless bibliophile as well as cinephile, it was killin' me.

I started the book Monday evening, and with a few necessary (this thing called life) interruptions, I finished yesterday morning. I love to read, and there aren't to many books that come along that I can't put down. If I have to put them down, I keep glancing longingly at them while pesky things like dishes, errands, and eating dinner interfere. Shogun, Misery, Into Thin Air, The Passage, Vincent Van Gogh's letters to his brother, Dracula, these are the previous contenders.  Not Bad For a Human is now included in that list. There are people out there, both famous and obscure, with fascinating lives that don't get an opportunity to tell their story, so the fact that through this book we are treated to one of the more engrossing and profound life experiences vicariously is really something.

I'm sure Joe Maddrey in preparing for this book realized the prolific output of Mr. Henriksen's oeuvre in film and television. Reading the book, I do believe he has seen them all. Enjoyable surely because as Mr. Henriksen says, "I've done a lot of B films, but I've never done a B performance" a dead on comment if ever there was one. Still, I have to give Mr. Maddrey props for taking on the sheer volume. It was worth it. The reviews and opinions on Mr. Henriksen's work are concise and informed. I can tell that Mr. Maddrey  has a great enthusiasm and geniune respect for the work.  Neither Mr. Henriksen or Mr. Maddrey ever succumb to what I'm sure must be a great temptation to sly or snarky about the films that Mr. Henriksen refers to as "alimony films" and that says a lot about the character of both parties. What your mother told you is really true "If you can't say something nice, don't anything at all". It's refreshing to read an autobiography that steers clear of any vitriol or venom.

There are so many great stories here. The description of an evening with Oliver Reed while filming "Pit and the Pendulum", starts off slightly cringe-worthy (read it for yourselves) and ends Bacchanalian. There are accounts of the many times Mr. Henriksen has done his own stunts, gone that extra mile, studied with experts on riding, card tricks, and knife tricks. I talked a little bit about my respect for his commitment in my post about "Near Dark". If it's possible for my already serious respect level to be raised, let's just say it has been.

That's a taste of the juicy stuff, the meaty stuff, one of two reasons I couldn't put it down.  The other reason is that there is a very serious spiritual thread running through the narrative. Life was by no means easy for Mr. Henriksen as a kid and a young man, and yeah, that's a serious understatement. I have a couple of friends who ended up being the parent of the family at a very young age, and the experiences I read about here seem to be similar.  Some people never get past this kind of life, but a few make it through spectacularly. It's reassuring for me to know that you can trudge through difficulty and emerge with real dignity and conviction at the other end.

There was a scrawled bit of graffiti that I used to pass by on my way to work years ago in New Orleans. It said "Bacchus Saves". I think that the gods of art and theater have smiled on Mr. Henriksen metaphorically, and all of us need to take that as a sanctified smack upside our heads. Mr. Henriksen loves what he does, and makes the hard work and commitment look easy. That's a true artist. I can't recommend this book highly enough. Get thee to and get a copy. Saying "You'll be glad you did" is cliche, so just frickin' do it. And when you do, stop by Mr. Henriksen's facebook page and let him know what you think. I guarantee it will be worth your while.